Drug Related Deaths in England and Wales 2016. How should we respond? A blog by Jim Armstrong, Director of Marketing and Innovation

node leader
2 August 2017

Deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales 2016. How should we respond?

A blog by Jim Armstrong – Director Marketing and Innovation

3,744 people died from drug poisoning involving both legal and illegal drugs in England and Wales during 2016. The highest number since 1993.

Whilst it would be convenient to identify a single simple cause, and some people will propose simple solutions, the reality is that the lives of each of those 3,744 people were undoubtedly complicated.  There is no one agency, or simple policy, that alone that will be able to reverse the trend, it will require a coordinated approach from a wide range of different specialist sources; healthcare, housing, substance misuse to name a few, working together within a society that supports, rather than stereotypes and stigmatises, those at risk.

The substance misuse sector has experienced significant cuts over the last 4 years.   Reduced spend across the  wider social and health care agenda means some of the most vulnerable people are finding it harder to access services for basic health and social care needs. This results in inevitable health inequality for many people who use drugs.

People who use drugs remain one of the most stigmatised groups in our local communities. Stigma prevents people asking for help when they need it. It isolates families and marginalises communities. The risk of stigma and marginalisation in society is that some people’s lives and deaths are too easily dismissed or explained away by flawed policy or generational trends.

The truth is we need to re-orientate healthcare, housing and substance misuse treatment and focus on the needs of those people that we are at greatest risk of losing. This means actively listening to those people at greatest risk and working together across specialisms and sectors with the new 2017 Drug Strategy as a guide. This is indeed a major challenge, but if we rise to it we are confident that we can make progress in reversing this tragic trend.

What does the latest report tell us?

  • There were 3,744 drug poisoning deaths involving both legal and illegal drugs in England and Wales registered in 2016; this is 70 higher than 2015 (an increase of 2%) and the highest number since comparable statistics began in 1993.

  • Of these 3,744 deaths, 69% (2,593) were drug misuse deaths.

  • There has been an increase in the rate of deaths related to drug misuse in Wales from 58.3 deaths per 1 million population in 2015 to 66.9 per 1 million in 2016; deaths in England have remained comparable between 2015 and 2016.

  • People aged 40 to 49 years had the highest rate of drug misuse deaths in 2016, overtaking those aged 30 to 39 years.

  • Over half (54%) of all deaths related to drug poisoning in 2016 involved an opiate (mainly heroin and/or morphine).

  • The highest mortality rate from drug misuse was in the North East with 77.4 deaths per 1 million population, a 13% increase from 2015; the lowest rate (29.1 deaths per 1 million population) was in the East Midlands, which remained stable.



Phoenix Futures is a registered charity in England and Wales (No 284880) and in Scotland (No SCO39008); Company Limited by Guarantee Number 1626869; Registered Provider of Social Housing with Homes England (H3795).